I just read this short story. Two things struck immediately. I had written about people going on pilgrimage from south to Varanasi (Kasi, the holiest of Indian cities by foot). My grandma’s grandma did this The Family Autocrat – Tribute To My Grandma. Google maps tells me the distance is about 1910 Kilo Meters about 1200 miles. And the level of trust and integrity the people had in all walks of life. I am sure you will be as awestruck as me when you read this……
பாலம் – கி ராஜநாராயணன்
Transport as we know was not there in those days. People who wanted to go on a pilgrimage to Kasi (Varanasi) had to travel by foot. Going and coming back was a herculean task. When they went to Kasi, they did not just stop there. They went to all the nearby places as well. The journey just did not last month but years. For old people, the journey some times ended up in the final journey of their lives and they ended up going to heaven.
Sulochana Mudaliar had a relative. She was a widow and did not have any children. She was old as well. She thought if she travelled to Kasi and die there, she could reach Kailash (the abode of God). She put all her possessions in a packet, wrapped it and gave it to Mudaliar, informed him, if she ever came back, she would take it back. The years rolled by and she did not return.
Mudaliar concluded she was unlikely to come back. He did not know what to do with the packet. He opened the package and found it was full of gold coins and jewelry made of gold with diamonds and other gem stones. They were just priceless. The package was just lying in a corner of the house, no one even noticed or cared about it.
He decided to wait and see if his relative would come back to get it. Days rolled into months and months to years. No sign of her. She had no heirs or close relatives. So Mudaliar could not hand over the package to anyone. He was struggling to find an answer on what should he do with the package.
In the town, there lived an holy man. Mudaliar respected him a lot. The holy man was a called a yogi and siddhar (a man who has attained spiritual powers). But these yogis had strange habits. They won’t open their mouths to utter a word, and when they speak one would not get the meaning of it. You need to go and ask another yogi to understand what was said. When Mudaliar reached the yogi’s place he was meditating, eyes closed. Mudaliar waited and waited, but the holy man would not open his eyes. He decided to come back later. As he turned back, he heard a booming voice behind him, “Who is that?”
‘Sami it is me.’ Mudaliar fell to the ground, stood up, his hands folded in respect. He kept standing there hoping the yogi would ask him something. When that did not happen, Mudaliar understood he won’t be asked and he had to narrate the purpose of his visit. He explained in detail about the package and asked him politely what should he do with the package.
“Put it in the river!’ the Godman replied. Mudaliar was caught between laughing at his suggestion and sad that he did not get a proper answer.
Mudaliar thought he should ask the Godman should he throw it in a river with flowing water or the which ran dry.
But he was worried that the Godman may something more cynical. So he bowed his head, uttered a thanks and returned. The town was on the banks of Thamirabarani river and Mudaliar had some acres of farmland there. The harvest, that year, was very good. As the carts left the farms with all rice produce, the river got flooded and took away most of the produce, the carts and bullocks. Not just Mudaliar, many people lost all they produced that year in the floods.
It was then, everyone understood that if there was bridge across the river, they would not have lost everything for which they worked so hard. So they decided to build a bridge. The Government gave permission for construction. It gave a small grant as well. Mudaliar decided to put some of his own money for the project to start. But where would he get remaining amount of money needed for the construction? It was then, Mudaliar remembered what the Godman had told him. ‘Put it in the river.’
When the foundation stone for the bridge was being laid, Mudaliar called all the elders of the town Sinthupunthurai for the ceremony. An old man among the invitees told Mudaliar, “When I was young there was a bridge on this river. But it got washed away during a flood.’
It was a warning for Mudaliar.
There was no cement available those days. For cement people used a mixture of mustard, jaggery and neera (derived from palm trees). The mixture when properly made and settled, gave strength similar to hard rock. It was how Sulocahan Mudaliar Bridge was built.
After we won our freedom from the British and the vehicle movement multiplied manifold, the town required a much broader bridge to facilitate all the vehicle movement. So it was decided to demolish the old bridge and construct a new one with cement and concrete. They tried to demolish the old bridge. But they just could not break a stone off it. The person who took the contract for demolishing, went to the higher ups to complain. Many senior engineers from Government came to inspect the bridge. They saw the bridge and its sturdiness and decided, there was no need to demolish the bridge after all. They decided to build one more bridge alongside and merge the old and the new one to get enough breadth. They did it and the bridge, till today is uttering the name of ‘Sulochana Mudaliar.’
Featured Image Courtesy – Jeeva Pathipagam.
Ki. Ra.’s first published short story was Mayamaan (lit. The Magical Deer), which came out in 1958. It was an immediate success. It was followed by many more short stories. Ki Ra’s stories are usually based in karisal kaadu (scorched, drought stricken land around Kovilpatti ). He centres his stories around Karisal country’s people, their lives, beliefs, struggles and folklore. The novels Gopalla Grammam (lit. Gopalla Village) and its sequel Gopallapurathu Makkal (lit. The People of Gopallapuram) are among his most acclaimed; he won the Sahitya Akademi award for the latter in 1991. As a folklorist, Ki. Ra. spent decades collecting folktales from the karisal kaadu and publishing them in popular magazines. In 2007, the Thanjavur based publishing house Annam compiled these folktales into a 944-page book, the Nattuppura Kadhai Kalanjiyam (Collection of Country Tales). As of 2009, he has published around 30 books. A selection of these were translated into English by Pritham K. Chakravarthy and published in 2009 as Where Are You Going, You Monkeys? – Folktales from Tamil Nadu. Ki. Ra. is well known for his candid treatment of sexual topics, and use of the spoken dialect of Tamil language for his stories (rather than its formal written form). In 2003, his short story kidai was made into a Tamil film titled Oruththi. It was screened in the International Film Festival of India.